March 20, 2016

Philippines: Feeling Uncomfortable

When you jump down from the jeepney and look around at all the faces lined up outside the hospital it can be a bit uncomfortable.  Many have shown up for you to take care of their needs and have most likely been there a while. Some of them in pain.  Many of them afraid.  Perhaps not all of them completely trusting.

The wait ahead for these people is lengthy to say the least. The line will just get progressively longer throughout the day.  I personally don't like to have people wait for me.  I'm impatient by nature and waiting for others at times sets me off.  So, for me, showing up to all those watchful eyes waiting in the hot sun for me to get myself in gear was unsettling.

However there's another underlying feeling.  I felt a bit like I was being observed.  Especially when awkwardly finding my footing climbing off the roof of the jeepney. It felt awkward, because I'm sure this kind of thing was as natural to them as a monkey jumping from tree to tree.  I did feel different.  Obviously I looked different.  My circumstances were... different to say the least.  The feeling of awkwardness melted away by day 3.  By that time I felt looked upon and welcomed with grateful smiles.

On the 3rd day I became more able to greet them one by one, looking in their eyes during that walk through the front doors. Before the last day I took it upon myself to boldly take a panoramic photo of the entire scene outside our clinic.  I slowly made a circle and photographed them all waiting in plastic chairs.  Waiting under plastic tents. Holding children on their hips.  Grasping their paperwork.  I'm not entirely sure they were completely aware of what I was doing.  A number of them could speak English and laughed when I proclaimed that I now had a photo of each and every one of them!  "I've got you all right here in my phone!" LOL they did.  If there's any culture of people who loves to laugh it's these people.

I have recently returned from a medical/dental mission trip to the Philippines.  One of the first things I learned is that there is no time for resting, and that you don't use two Ls when spelling the word Philippines.  Almost within the first minute that we rolled our suitcases into our rooms we were told to change and get ready to start working in the clinic.  This would not have been so hard if we hadn't been traveling for the last 17 hours to get there.  Funny but now I can't remember the tired feeling as much as I remember the faces in the waiting crowds.

When we arrived that first day we saw perhaps the largest crowd of the week.  We met with the man in charge and he choked up during his welcome speech.  We knew were in the right place.  Getting organized and ready to see people that day was probably the hardest thing we did all week.  Much of our equipment had not arrived yet, so we were reduced to working with 1 syringe to numb people up with.  We just wiped it down between patients. We saw 50 people that afternoon.

On day 2  I needed a distraction, (our scalers hadn't arrived still), so I grabbed a bag of  found toothbrushes and started teaching the kids in the crowd how to brush.  A translator soon found me, offering to carry my bag around while translating.  Being that close to the people I strangely felt like I should have worn different shoes.  My tennis shoes were florescent green and yellow and I felt like they made me stick out even more.  No one was mentally criticizing my footwear I'm certain.

Most of the kids were happy to get a toothbrush but some were too shy to interact with me.  Then I found one girl who was eager to learn what I had to say. This sweet girl wore a blue striped T shirt and I decided to teach her to floss as well.  Floss samples were not something we had for everyone, but I gave one to her. The thing that melted my heart about this girl was that she not only absorbed what I had to say,  but that she went and got friends that were willing to listen and brought them to me for instruction. That made my day!  I truly feel that cleaning someone's teeth is a good deed, extracting rotten teeth and avoiding infection is critical & making someone a partial denture is super!  But teaching a young child the value of putting bristles to gumline and flossing interproximally.... that is the best thing of all!  That prevents the need for everything else. The fact that I taught someone who wanted friends to know this great thing, made my dental hygienist heart swell.  It was a true highlight.

And another thing I learned that day was that people aren't so scary when you go out in the hot crowded hallway with them and start to teach their children.  I definitely felt the stares of welcome friendship and gratitude that afternoon.  I saw smiles and nods. It was not uncomfortable. It was not awkward. I found my footing in my loud green shoes.

When Igore (our philanthropist/organizer) came up to me that day and told me I should probably find a cooler place to work, I know he meant well and was encouraging me to pace myself.  But I couldn't think of a cooler place to be.

Our Jeepney (a multiple passenger vehicle)

My dental savvy friend, and my shoes : )

Adorable kids!!!

A comparably small crowd that morning

1 comment:

Shana M said...

Great photos and story!